Around the World in 12 Salads
Peruvian solterito: From the region of Arequipa, Peru, this salad (the name of which translates as “little single man”) consists of potatoes, coriander, onion, rocoto chili pepper, fava beans, corn and quesillo cheese. The ingredients are uniformly diced and bound in olive oil.
Californian Cobb salad: The famous Hollywood hangout, the Brown Derby, served a salad to its owner, Robert Howard Cobb, who hadn’t eaten for hours. It was past midnight and he wanted something filling but not too heavy, so he threw together various ingredients left in the kitchen: grilled chicken, avocado, fried bacon, cheese, hardboiled eggs. Voilà, the Cobb salad was born.
Tuscan panzanella: A cookbook could be written about what to make with slightly stale bread. Not so stale that it turns blue, but stale enough that you don’t want to eat it in the more traditional bread-consumption manner. Tuscan panzanella is a cold salad of stale bread cubes and soaked in olive oil, tomato, onion and salt. The bread makes it filling enough to be a meal in itself, and the firmness of the bread gives it nice crunch and absorption of all that delicious dressing.
Greek Horiatiki salad: Onion, tomato, cucumber, Kalamata olives and Feta cheese (served as a single block, not cubed) is the traditional Greek salad, which is often called “village salad” there. Head to the Dodacanese islands and you’ll find capers added. Go to a traditional American “Greek diner” and it will be mixed with lettuce. In whatever variation, it’s refreshing, cheap, and delicious.
Thai yum woon sen: Glass noodle salad is smothered in a spicy dressing, taking the airy, bean thread noodles to another level. There are peanuts, there’s the unctuous funk of dried shrimp, the perk of cilantro. Fish sauce, lime, Thai chili. It’s a flavor party, but surprisingly light, since the noodles themselves have just about no calories. Consider it the sort of diet you’ll be delighted to be on!
American Caesar salad: If there’s one thing Americans love to order at restaurants, it’s a Caesar salad. But they don’t want the traditional one. The one with anchovies. They want the one in which the anchovy-ness is hidden in the dressing, and they want grilled chicken on top. Historians seems to think that Cesare (Caesar) Cardini, born in 1896 in Lago Maggiore, near Milano, was the man behind the salad. He moved to the US after the First World War and lived in San Diego, but ran a restaurant in Tijuana, Mexico, where the salad was first served. Lettuce, croutons, anchovies were thrown together, the story goes, in 1924, when the restaurant, called Caesar’s, was particularly busy. It was called the Aviator’s Salad, as Cesare’s brother, Alex, had been a pilot with the Italian air force. In 1938 the Cardinis moved to Los Angeles to open a restaurant, and the sauce for the salad was bottled and sold from 1948 on. Anchovies are the key to the dressing, adding an umami flavor that was strong, and is played down in the tamer modern version that can be found on menus of just about every diner and bistro across the US today.
Indonesian gado-gado: Salads are a good way of deliciously disposing of ingredients that perhaps are not in such quantity as to make a main, but which can provide good grace notes to a hybridized new concoction. Whatever you’ve got in the larder? That’ll do for this “mix-mix” salad, in which you might find exotic ingredients, like bitter gourd, chayote and tempeh, but also spinach, hardboiled egg, torn bread, cucumber, cabbage… whatever you’ve got, linked with a peanut dressing that forgives all incongruities.
New York Waldorf Salad: Chef Oscar Tschirky of the Waldorf Hotel invented this unusual combination of grapes, chopped apple, walnuts, celery and mayo on lettuce, the fame of which spread far and wide.
Guatemalan fiambre: Straddling the line between salad and potluck main course, this celebratory feast on a plate is traditionally made on the Day of the Dead. The story goes that families would prepare favorite dishes of deceased relatives on this special day, to honor them, and eventually the various dishes were combined into a single, heaping plate that, heck, we’ll call a salad. The exact recipe varies from family to family, but you might find cold cuts, pickles, cheese, lettuce, sausages, salami, pacaya flower, baby corn, hot peppers…it’s wonderfully anarchic.
Finnish rosolli: This beet salad is usually made at Christmas, and it is beautiful and festive to look at, and to eat. Originating in the wonderfully-name Hme region, its core is boiled beets, potatoes and carrots, peeled and chopped. Then chopped gherkins and apples and onions are added, usually layered in a glass bowl, to see the rainbow colors. The dressing is whipped cream.
French Salade Nicoise: Chunks of tuna (not from a can, please), green beans (with the little “tails” clipped off, please), eggs and potato form the core of this hearty salad celebrated in Nice, on the French Riviera.
Slovenian salad: Alright, this salad might not be a national dish, the way the others in this list are, but enough people I know in Slovenia make a specific type of salad that I can consider it a “thing.” Slovenian salad consists of lettuce, lots of chopped raw garlic, sliced boiled potato, salt and vinegar. The garlic is brutally powerful. The other rival for most-Slovenian of salads is made with the boiled beef leftover from making the tradition Sunday beef noodle soup. That beef, when cold, is sliced and mixed with sliced raw onion, salt, pepper, and vinegar.